Tips for Returning to the Office

After two years of remote work during the pandemic, many companies are starting to call workers back into the office. For many people, the thought of returning to a physical office for the first time in two years can feel as if the soundtrack from “Jaws” is playing in the background. Not knowing what to expect, some will psych themselves into a level of fear and uncertainty that Halloween horror movies are designed to elicit. But returning to the office does not have to be that scary or uncomfortable if one considers a few tips. Here’s how employees can make a smoother return to the office.

Know the Rules

As you return to the office, know the rules regarding work hours, mask usage and even business travel. Some organizations have retooled their procedural and cultural ways of doing business. For example, pre-pandemic, some might have jumped on a plane for an initial client meeting. Now, having been accustomed to videoconference introductions for two years, your team leader may wonder why you don’t save time and money by cutting back on travel. Likewise, buildings may still have rules regarding masks and visitors even as individual company suites have different approaches.

Practice Tolerance for Different Attitudes on COVID-19

According to Morning Consult, about two-thirds of American workers feel comfortable and safe returning to the office. Of course, it also shows that about one-third express discomfort at the notion. With this in mind, try to practice tolerance for a wide range of approaches and let genuine curiosity and empathy drive your perspective rather than judgment. You may not know, and frankly, it may not be your business, that a colleague is hyper-sensitive to perceived COVID-19 risk because of a personal health risk profile or that of a loved one. COVID-19 was a terrible experience for the entire world and individuals’ responses need not be bifurcated.

[Read: Work Productivity Tips for Remote Jobs.]

Be Considerate About Health Issues

The culture regarding mild illnesses has changed in most organizations. Working through a cold or even flu was once accepted practice in some organizational cultures, even to the point of being expected. Now, most expect you to work from home or take a sick day or paid time off if there is even the slightest concern about spreading sickness. Similarly, if you sneeze or cough, it might be courteous to make a small remark, like “darned allergies” or “don’t worry, I’m not sick” just to put sensitive co-workers at ease.

Reestablish a Routine

Commuting times can vary significantly as people return to the office. A favored coffee shop or drive-through may no longer be in business. Allow for extra transition time and take this opportunity to realize some past resolutions like showing up an hour early or listening to a podcast rather than music as you commute. Routine can be stifling for some, but most find benefit in the predictability and comfort from knowing what to expect.

Consciously Refill Your Social Bank Account

In physical offices, there is often a vibrant social life of coffee and lunch breaks. One of the many advantages of working in one space is to get to know people who may not work in your immediate team but have intrinsic or future value to your professional and social life. As you settle back into the routine of office life, you may wish to prioritize internal and external networking activities to rebuild and expand your circle.

[See: Best Remote Working Jobs.]

Intentionally Relearn Time Protection Methods

The flip side of refilling your social “bank account” is learning again how to check unproductive interruptions. When you were working at home, you didn’t have someone stopping by your cubicle or office to talk about news, sports, gossip or the weather. You may need to relearn how to practice social discipline by reminding people when you are on a deadline or otherwise need to focus on work rather than conversation.

Refocus on Health

As of February 2021, millennials in the United States reported an average undesired weight gain of 41 pounds since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Statista, a German company that specializes in market and consumer data. Exercise routines suffered and the proximity of the home refrigerator and pantry meant that unhealthy food choices were only a few steps away. Use the return to the office as an opportunity to dedicate or rededicate yourself to healthy habits of exercise and nutrition.

Negotiate Hybrid Solutions

Finally, for some organizations and individuals, the return to the traditional office doesn’t need to be completely as it was. Many companies are exploring hybrid work solutions where teams or individuals spend some time in the office and the rest at home. A whole new lexicon has emerged of 1 to 4 or 2 to 3, for example, to indicate the mix of home vs. office days in a typical week. As you return, be mindful of the benefits of each location and then make the case to your supervisor that you are more productive with one model or the other.

[Read: How to Ask to Work Remotely Full Time]


Remember, this is a change for you and the whole organization to wean itself from the work from home model. Companies are struggling with this return to work just like individuals. No one knows if we are returning to the world exactly as it was in 2019 or if there is some new shift to a hybrid world. Be intentional about your approach and sensitive to others’ needs and soon you will feel that “normal” state that we have spent two years of yearning, even if what is normal becomes something quite new and unexpected.

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